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Heart of Asia conference begins with focus on tackling terror amid Indo-Pak tensions

As Afghanistan faces the resurgence of Taliban, a conference of major regional and global powers began today in this holy city to explore ways to effectively deal with threat of terrorism in the region, its complex security matrix and help the war-ravaged nation in its transition.

Being attended by nearly 40 countries and leading groupings like the European Union, the annual conference of the Heart of Asia — Istanbul Process is deliberating on various challenges facing Afghanistan, including revival of a peace process in the conflict-ridden country.

Today, senior officials of all 14 countries, including India, China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, and representatives of 17 supporting nations were deliberating on a vast range of issues facing the region including its complex security scenario and dealing with threat of terrorism, radicalisation and extremism.

Issues like enhancing Afghanistan’s connectivity with South and Central Asian countries to boost trade were being discussed at the senior officials’ meeting which was co-chaired by India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Hikmat Khaleel Karzai.

The meeting is finalising the text for tomorrow’s Ministerial Conference and is also deliberating on its Declaration which will have substantial portion on terrorism.

Pakistani Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz is representing Islamabad at the Ministerial conference on Sunday which will be jointly inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The annual conference is taking place amid heightened tension between India and Pakistan in the wake of the audacious terror attack on Nagrota army base and there was no clarity on an Indo-Pak bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the conclave.

India had already made it clear that it would never accept continuing cross-border terrorism as the “new normal” in bilateral ties with Pakistan while making it clear that talks cannot take place in an atmosphere of “continued terror”.

At the senior officials’ meeting, Afghanistan, which has also been facing increased attacks from terror groups operating from Pakistan, pushed for a regional counter-terror framework.

Ahead of the conference, both India and Afghanistan had called terror emanating from Pakistan as the “greatest threat” to regional peace and stability, and both the countries are set to press hard for adopting the counter terror framework at tomorrow’s deliberations.

The conference, whose theme is security and prosperity, will also deliberate on major connectivity initiatives including Chabahar project, a five-nation railway project.

There may be deliberations on TAPI (Turkmenistan Afghanistan-Pakistan India) gas pipeline project. The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 and the participating countries include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.

The platform was floated to encourage security, political and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours.

The countries which support the initiative are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Finland, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Britain and the US.

Amritsar, which is not very far from the Indo-Pak border, has been brought under a heavy security cover in view of the conference, a major international event being hosted by the city for the first time in many years.

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